Increase efficiency and ensure product quality with innovative weighing and inspection solutions Vegetable meat alternatives continue to be in vogue

Meat consumption patterns have changed significantly in recent years. In Germany, for example, 44 percent now eat a flexitarian diet, i.e. eat meat only occasionally, seven percent vegetarian and one percent vegan (BMEL Nutrition Report 2022). Animal welfare, environmental protection and health are some of the main reasons for giving up meat. The global market for plant-based meat alternatives is already worth billions and is growing at double-digit rates. Due to this development, many companies are already fighting for market share. Start-ups and traditional meat producers are competing with consumer goods multinationals like Nestlé and Unilever. Many companies are making targeted investments in their production facilities to keep up with the high demand. However, the current challenges such as supply bottlenecks and increased energy costs are not leaving these companies unscathed. Maximum efficiency and the greatest possible conservation of resources along the entire value chain from production to packaging are more important today than ever before.

Find out in this article which advantages meat substitute producers can draw from the latest weighing and inspection technologies from Minebea Intec.

As in the entire food industry, hygiene and product quality are of crucial importance in the production of plant-based meat alternatives. Contamination or foreign bodies in the vegetarian or vegan foods and the associated product recalls can not only be expensive and damage trust in the brand and the company, but above all endanger the health of consumers. At the same time, cost savings, sustainability and high throughput are important issues in the industry.

Requirements for the production of vegetarian and vegan meat alternatives

In order to come as close as possible to the traditional schnitzel, steak or burger in terms of shape, consistency, taste, smell and mouthfeel, the highest quality standards are required in production. The recipes often consist of more than 30 individual components - be it different flavourings or fibre structures of fruit seeds, pulses or vegetable peelings. To bring the ingredients together in the right proportions, companies work with automated mixing systems equipped with high-precision load cells from Minebea Intec. "Our weighing solutions guarantee accurate, continuous, fast and flexible dosing processes and minimise material losses," says Yannick Salzmann, Global Product Manager at Minebea Intec. The weighing solutions can be easily integrated into the production lines of manufacturing companies as an OEM solution. "Our Novego® weighing module was developed specifically for tank and process vessel weighing in the food and pharmaceutical industries," says Yannick Salzmann. "The hygienic all-in-one solution offers a variety of innovative features for easy, error-free installation as well as maximum resistance to lateral forces." The Novego® weighing module ensures process reliability, measurement accuracy and fast cleaning processes. The exceptional corrosion resistance of the stainless steel as well as the product design oriented towards the guidelines of the EHEDG make the weighing module insensitive to dirt, water and even aggressive cleaning agents.

Increase precision and process speed with dynamic checkweighers

When the mixing process is complete and the products are on the conveyor belts, Minebea Intec's dynamic checkweighers come into play. "With the help of dynamic checkweighers, companies can optimise their production processes, improve material and resource management and increase the accuracy and consistency of production processes," says Lars-Henrik Bierwirth, Product Manager at Minebea Intec. "Our Flexus® checkweigher is the ideal solution for the highest product quality - regardless of whether customers want to check product weight or completeness or optimise their filling and sorting processes." High-resolution EMFR load cell technology and a customised design guarantee precise weighing results and high throughputs of up to 600 pieces per minute. The Flexus® checkweigher integrates effortlessly into existing production environments. Changing line configurations and rapid product changes are handled quickly and easily. Optional stainless steel tables make the Flexus® checkweigher easy and safe to clean.

Metal detector Mitus® reduces false rejects and ensures highest product quality

In addition to checkweighing, foreign object inspection plays an important role in the meat substitute industry. The new metal detector Mitus® with the innovative MiWave technology enables highly precise detection of metallic foreign bodies even with the largest product effects, which can occur frequently, especially with meat-type products. With MiWave, a multitude of frequencies are modulated onto the transmitted signal, which are then separated and evaluated separately by an intelligent algorithm. With the help of this separation, the products can be inspected symbolically from several perspectives. Due to this significantly increased information content, high search sensitivities can be achieved despite large product effects. The result for producers: maximum product safety and maximum output.

The Mitus® metal detector is available in standard sizes as a rectangular, round or compact detection coil as well as a free-fall and pipeline application, so that it can be integrated into production facilities even where space is limited and depending on requirements. The Mitus® metal detector can also be easily combined with additional weighing technology if required. "With the Mitus® , we offer users a premium solution for metal detection," says Linus Dellweg, Global Product Manager at Minebea Intec. "Meat substitute producers can thereby rely on our premium quality 'Made in Germany'."

Carefree with safety: Dypipe X-ray inspection system with innovative validation system

As plant-based meat alternatives are made from a variety of ingredients, unwanted parts such as shell remnants may end up in the products during raw material preparation. To identify these tiny foreign bodies and remove the contaminated products, many companies rely on Minebea Intec's X-ray inspection systems. Minebea Intec offers a complete portfolio of X-ray systems for the inspection of packaged products. Typical applications include cartons, boxes, bags, pouches, trays and portion packs, which can contain a wide variety of dry or liquid food products. The Dylight and Dymond models have been specially developed for these applications. They feature a hygienic design in accordance with EHEDG principles and high detection sensitivities with low power consumption.

For viscous and liquid products such as vegan mince, Minebea Intec has recently launched the Dypipe X-ray inspection system. The Dypipe is equipped with an innovative specimen insertion system that enables specimen verification in live operation. This means that producers can always be sure that their production processes are working properly and do not lose any time for inspection when the plant is at a standstill. For the high hygienic requirements in meat substitute applications, the Dypipe is equipped with an easy-to-open separator that has been specially developed for this purpose. This system guarantees excellent results and gives the security of producing high quality food.

Smart labelling enables maximum traceability

Another technology to increase efficiency in the meat substitute industry is the WPL-A Automatic Price Labeling System from Minebea Intec. With its reliable software and state-of-the-art weighing and printing technology, this system not only allows live production data to be displayed, but also dynamic graphics of the freshly printed labels to be shown on the integrated 19" Windows touch screen. This provides immediate control over the labelling process and promotes transparency in the production chain. Maximum traceability is ensured through the accurate recording of pack numbers, product information, batches, user and device IDs. In addition, the system offers ERP connectivity and can be extended with the e-mark software module to ensure seamless integration into existing operations.

The WPL-A's intelligent label design meets the latest regulatory requirements for product labelling. No external software solutions are required as the system comes with native templates and formats for all printer configurations. This user-friendly design not only simplifies the work process, but also ensures that all specifications are met. At the heart of the WPL-A is its state-of-the-art weighing and compression technology, housed in a compact design. This enables high processing speeds and innovative options to meet the demands of a dynamic production environment. In this way, the system not only contributes to accurate price labelling, but also to increased throughput and productivity.

Defect-free packaging guaranteed: The VisioPointer® from Minebea Intec with hyperspectral analysis

Minebea Intec's visual inspection solutions are used at the end of the meat substitute production line. The VisioPointer® is a forward-looking solution for, among other things, highly effective seal seam inspection of packaging in the food industry. By using hyperspectral analysis for coloured packaging or infrared for transparent packaging, the VisioPointer® can detect even the smallest leaks or irregularities in the packaging seal. This ensures product integrity and minimises the risk of contamination from defective packaging.

Automation: the path to sustainable production

 "We offer our customers in the meat substitute industry weighing and inspection solutions for the entire production process: from incoming goods to outgoing goods. From entry-level products to premium solutions," says Lars-Henrik Bierwirth. "In addition to our high-quality equipment, we also have intuitive software solutions in our portfolio that simplify recipe processes, reduce raw material waste and have sophisticated safety functions such as track and trace." For manual recipe processes, Minebea Intec offers the PC software ProRecipe XT®, for automated recipe processes the Batch-PMS software is ideally suited and with the SPC@Enterprise software, customers have a central data management tool at their disposal.

Automation enables meat substitute producers to save money and increase efficiency, while high-precision technologies ensure product quality and protect against costly recalls. In addition, Minebea Intec's solutions help to make the production process more sustainable by reducing false rejections, minimising material waste, increasing energy efficiency and optimising packaging processes, thus supporting responsible resource use. This is likely to be in line with the aspirations of most producers of plant-based meat substitutes, who are likely to be interested in improved sustainability in addition to revenue shares in this future market.

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